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Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting

Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting
Lightbulb

    We all know that our surroundings affect our ability to get work done, from that irritating buzzing from the next cubicle over to the uncomfortable chair causing our back pain. But what about lighting? Has the flicker of fluorescent lighting finally gotten to you?

    There are plenty of problems attributed to lighting, from migraines to eye strain. On top of the physical issues, though, depending on the type of lighting in your work area, you may be running into some mental issues as well.

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    For me, insufficient lighting is practically a guarantee that I’m not going to be productive. I may even nod off for a while. In order to get my work done, I have to have some decent lighting! Even a minor change in the lights in my workspace have improved my productivity enormously, making it easier for me to focus on my work, and even to see it.

    Choosing the right lighting

    Picking out light bulbs can be just as important as picking out a comfortable chair. You have to take into account glare from your computer screen, environmental impact and cost, as well as what level of lighting you work best in. And lighting doesn’t just affect your mood at work. Many people subconsciously choose home lighting that doesn’t remind them of their work environment.

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    Most office buildings rely on light bulbs in the 6500K range, or about the same lighting level as daylight. I use 6500K light bulbs in my home office as well — they’re available just about everywhere, although brands seem to pick and choose whether to label their bulbs as ‘daylight’ or ‘6500K.’ I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep myself on track with better lighting — in the past I’ve relied on an open window augmented by a desk lamp with a fairly weak light bulb.

    Lighting designers routinely recommend that desk workers rely on two light sources for their offices: a general indirect lighting source to generally brighten up a room and “task lighting,” a small direct light source that can be focused on the paper you’re reading or another task at hand. While fluorescents and other options are fine for general illumination, but halogen bulbs are better for detail work, because halogen renders colors with a clarity that other types of lighting often lack.

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    Ideas for making the switch

    To provide examples of improvements you can make to your office lighting, we have three lighting makeovers. You can draw ideas from these situations, especially if you don’t have the option of finding a lighting designer for your work space.

    Steve works in an office in an older building. He can see a window from his desk, but most of his lighting comes from the bevy of fluorescent panels installed in the drop ceiling. For Steve, the most crucial lighting issue is the glare on his monitor. Steve’s first step is turning off the fluorescents entirely. Because he’s in an older building, he may actually have more lighting than he needs, due to old school lighting designers’ good intentions to provide workers with as much light as possible. To replace the fluorescents, Steve brings in lamps, to provide indirect lighting. He also chooses to look for a daylight bulb to help him stay on track. He adds a goose neck lamp that he can redirect to whichever task he’s focused on.

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    James works in a studio and, as an artist, needs more control over his lighting than Steve does. While he’s looked into dimmer switches and related options, James has decided that he wants multiple fixtures for finer control. For the main light source in the room, he chooses a fluorescent bulb of the ‘natural color’ variety — a bit softer than daylight but a good bulb for color rendition, a key factor for an artist. James also invests in several small lamps that he can easily manipulate, choosing halogen bulbs so that he can bring as much light to bear on his work as necessary.

    George works in his home office, in his basement. He rarely gets a chance to see sunlight during his work day and wants to use daylight bulbs to bring brightness into his work space. However, he’s also concerned about saving money on his electric bill. George opts for compact fluorescent bulbs, which have a higher initial cost but are more efficient than the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs George was considering. That efficiency means a lower electricity bill for George. He finds 6500K, or daylight, compact fluorescent bulbs that work with three-way lamps — they offer up three different settings so that George can control his light source to match what he’s doing.

    Beyond examples

    These three work areas were simple samples of a few changes that can be made to your work area. Consider lighting as another facet of ergonomics, and you may even be able to convince a manager to make the changes for you. Improvements don’t need to be limited to work areas, either. Consider improving the mood in the relaxing areas of your home, such as your bedroom, just by changing out that daylight light bulb for something more soothing.

    There are thousands of lighting combinations available, even for the amateur lighting designer. You may have to try out a couple to find that particular combination that improves your personal productivity. I know from experience, however, that even a little change can be well worth the effort. Even changing a single light bulb can relieve eye strain, save money and generally make it easier to work.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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